In 1992 Cambodia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminationagainst Women.
There was no Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 1992 and no national policyresponse to women and gender issues. Twenty-one years on and the Royal Government ofCambodia has identified gender equality under the fourth priority area of its latest RectangularStrategy and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is set to produce its fourth national strategy ongender equality, Neary Rattanak IV. In 1992 there was no legislative response to issues primarilyaffecting women. Now Cambodia has legislation on trafficking and domestic violence. However, whilst statistics on women’s political participation and access to primary educationhave improved, traditional challenges and emerging issues mean that there is still a long way togo before Cambodia achieves gender equality.
This is a reality that not only Cambodia, butevery country in the world, faces. Having just completed a review of Cambodia’s progresstowards implementing CEDAW, the Convention’s Committee has recently issued its preliminaryConcluding Observations which provide a comprehensive picture of what still needs to bedone. In the Concluding Observations, the Committee acknowledges and commends the progressmade by the Royal Government of Cambodia towards gender equality. This includes efforts tomainstream gender through the policies of all ministries, eliminate gender stereotypes in schoolcurricula and develop a second National Action Plan for the Prevention of Violence againstWomen.
However, the Committee also identifies forty-two principal areas of concern withrecommendations for action.Emphasizing that land issues are not a gender neutral phenomenon the Committee expressesparticular concern about the use of intimidation and harassment by law enforcement personnelagainst women human rights defenders advocating for land rights. As land rights activist YormBopha completes her first year of a three-year prison sentence, women land rights activists,and those protesting for her release, have been dispersed with excessive force.
Indeed, the Committee goes on to recommend the inclusion of UN Security Council Resolution1325 into the new NAPVAW. Resolution 1325 recognizes the role of women in peace buildingand the Committee’s recommendation speaks of a need for Cambodia to address the way inwhich the security sector interacts with communities and with women in particular. After thetragic events of the November 12 garment factory protests, the need for such reform isimperative.
Making the connection between trafficking and labour migration, the Committee recommendsan increase in dissemination of information on deceptive recruitment. The Committee also asksthat the Government ensures that trafficking for domestic servitude be addressed through bi-lateral agreements and an effective criminal justice response. These recommendations come asCambodia opens up a new migration corridor for domestic workers to Singapore, and re-assesses the ban on sending domestic workers to Malaysia.
The recommendations areunquestionably necessary for the protection of Cambodian female migrant workers. The Cambodian offices of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowermentof Women and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights concurwith the CEDAW Committee in recognizing the work of the Government in the progress madeto date towards gender equality. In light of the Committee’s Observations it is clear that thefocus on gender equality must be maintained and strengthened if this goal is to be achieved. Inthis regard it is critical that specific targets for gender equality are developed into the nationalpost-2015 agenda. Both UN Women and OHCHR will continue to assist the Government inimplementing the Concluding Observations.
Those few women who took up the cause for women’s rights and gender equality in Cambodiain the 1990s must be congratulated for their bravery and commitment – and Cambodiansshould be proud of how far the country has come in making national commitments to genderequality. The future of gender equality in Cambodia, however, is now in the hands of allpartners in society and government. And much of this charge can be lead by the large anddynamic population of young Cambodian women and men. With four years until the nextCEDAW review, the Concluding Observations can serve as a critical to-do list for us all to takeforward the work those women started to eliminate discrimination against women.